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The Concert and other poems

The Concert

You recall that certain moment during the concert
at the lakeside spa where Kafka once had stayed,
in the mountains north of Prague,
when–after the voluptuous melancholy
of a sentimental Viennese waltz–
the dreamy eyes of the audience–
mostly octogenarians–
behind their spectacles and contact lenses–
suddenly flash and sparkle,
as the spa orchestra plays the first few bars
of an old familiar polka,
(though at a tempo much too rapid
for these elderly ladies with blue and thinning hair
to dance to–now)
and yet evoking flickering memories
of an ardent past,
whether beneath the blaze of crystal chandeliers,
dancing in a rococo palace in Vienna,
or of furtive embraces in a narrow lane
of oldest Prague.

And the wrinkled smile and distant gaze persist,
until an overflying airliner
abruptly drowns the melody
in its engines’ most modern roar.

And thus again to feel the disappointment,
the peculiar sadness of a child
on arriving at the vast amusement park
to find it drenched in heavy and increasing rain,
where– to the musical groan and belch
of the seemingly unmanned yet gasping calliope–
the carousel’s so brightly painted stallions
still bound and bob in whirling circles,
but riderless,
even as high above them
the empty rain-pelted cars of the roller coaster
climb, then at their very zenith–
pause–before abruptly hurtling downward,
rattling loudly, but now devoid
of human cries;
while from the doors of the gaudy funhouse
blast those ceaseless guffaws,
the recorded laughter of an absent madman

Dancers on a falling bridge

Like jugglers in the snow
or dancers on a falling bridge,
we seek to toss and cling
between our bed and clock.
At times your heart seems closed
as the leather eye
of camel in the sandstorm,
but I watch the flicker of your eye
as canary in the mineshaft,
your amber eyes,
embedded in your olive skin.

And in the moon of our melancholy,
this pitch and warp of earth,
like truant children trapped on high
by noonday’s clanging steeple bells –
we feel a nausea of ear, a nausea of eye.
Or listening to each other in the dark
as saliva gathers in the basin of the mouth,
and no word spoken.

Lines written after a young student neighbor had hanged himself

As flies buzz round
your cobwebbed roses,
read with care
the underlined passages
in the books of a suicide,
till the perching flamingo nods
and you awaken
from one dream
into another:
The hum – electrical,
incessant, ever
just beneath your hearing –
rasps your consciousness,
as unexpectedly
as when on quiet summer night
lightning flashes through
your closed eyelids,
as frightening as in childhood
the clash of summer thunder,
or winter silence
in the dark cellar.

–Robert Kramer


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